I’m all for small businesses taking risks to grow, but you should never take ethical risks.
Just up to a few months ago, I would have said that Volkswagen were one of the more trustworthy brands around. They’d got a great track record for making quality products, decent customer service – even a dedicated fan club. Now, though, they’re as tarnished as the perennially corrupt financial services industry, which on its own provides one third of the column inches on the subject of business ethics (and of course, it’s never praise for inscrutable honesty and mindfulness of their fellow man).
What have Volkswagen and the financial services industry got in common? You guessed it…deep pockets. In the face of an ethical drama, the big boys lawyer up, try to limit the damage – then pay the fines and the compensation (of course they make the compo as difficult as possible to claim, and a whole other sector springs up around it, the corporate compensation vultures. Which needs other dodgy dealers to back it up, for example the illegal trade in phone numbers to ring up and say “I’m calling about the accident you’ve had in the last 12 months…” We’ve all had that one, and I’d bet the vast majority of people say something like, “er, no, I didn’t. Where do you get this bullshit from?”).
Corporate corruption is a depressing downward spiral, where lies breed more lies, until it all blows up as a media scandal and probably a parliamentary select committee, where some sheepish CEO pretends they didn’t know. Of course they’re sorry: sorry they got busted.
As a small business owner, you have to “just say no.”
Unethical behaviour is a non-starter, because you haven’t got the cash reserves for hot shot lawyers, fines and PR moguls to re-build your reputation from the gutter up.
Save yourself the stress and the drama, and build yourself a stellar reputation from scratch. Making a commitment to ethics is essential for all small business owners: it is a relatively inexpensive way to promote your business, when you consider the long term benefits.
Treat your staff well for PR as well as HR
Treating your staff well goes a long way. Your people talk – and their people talk too. If you’ve got a reputation for being a great boss and having an inclusive company culture where innovative ideas are encouraged, people will hear about it. You’ll be remembered. Not just by people looking for jobs, but people who are in the market to buy your products or services – or even do lucrative partnerships and contra-deals with you.
So what starts as a way to motivate your team ends up as a grassroots marketing campaign. A commitment to ethics also undeniably makes you a better seller, if you believe that you are doing the right thing, it shows. It’s hard to muster up the requisite passion for something you truly believe is a little bit on the wide side, and if the person you’re trying to convince has a decent level of emotional intelligence, they’ll see your nose growing.
What would your mum think?
The best ethics benchmark is embarrassingly simple: “What would your mother think?”
If your mum would think that it’s legit, right and proper then make it company policy. Build a culture around that. A stereotype I know, but most mums are bastions of sound business ethics.
Build your business so that it makes profits in a way that makes mums proud, and you are on the right path to long term success. Together we can shift the practices and make the world of business a better place.
If you want advice on running an ethical business – and making more money as a result, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
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